Fixing American Government in 2014

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The White House, October 2013

As we begin the year 2014, I find myself reflecting on the political situation in the United States, and I must say that it is a bit depressing.  Our political parties cannot seem to agree on much of anything, our bureaucracy is a model of inefficiency, and there does not seem to be much positive change on the horizon.  Is there anything that could really fix this situation?

Well, with a new year, hope springs eternal, and though I have no expectation that any of the following suggestions will be implemented this year (or any other year), I am going to go ahead and make them anyway in the hope that it might spur some positive discussion.  Love them or hate them, here are five things that I think would help to improve our federal government. Continue reading

Mayors Gone Wild: Canuck Edition

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The lovely city of Toronto, now home to a truly embarrassing mayor. Flickr photo by John Vetterli

There are increasing calls for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to get ouuuwwwwt of city hall.  (“Ouuuwwwwt” is how people from Ontario tend to say “out”.)

Here in the United States, we know all about mayoral scandals.  In the ‘90s, there was D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted on drug charges.  In the ‘00s, we had Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose offenses made Barry’s seem rather trivial: he was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison for a laundry list of crimes that included “taking bribes, steering contracts to his friend, extorting businessmen, deceiving donors to his nonprofit, living lavishly on the public’s dime and loading the city’s payroll with friends and family.” Continue reading

America is the New Egypt

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Photo by Wikipedia user Kallerna

America’s politicians are not much better than Egypt’s these days, squabbling and refusing to deal with big issues.  What must be done to fix the situation?

Apparently, when Americans think about Egypt, the first word that comes to mind is “pyramids”; at least, that’s what I heard at one of the many D.C. think tank events I attended during my time working on Egypt.  I get it: the pyramids are pretty awesome.  However, when I think of Egypt, I am sad to say that one of the first words that pops into my head is “dysfunctional”.

When I say dysfunctional, I am referring to the government, which since the 2011 revolution has gone from an interim military regime, to a mostly democratic one dominated by Islamists, and then back to an interim military regime.  If you like lots of plot twists, then Egypt is the place for you these days.  What the country really needs is a unity government full of technocrats who can put it back on track politically and economically, but that is easier said than done. Continue reading

Socialism Under the Microscope: Part One – The Socialists Among Us

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Current French President Francois Hollande at a Socialist Party rally back in 2011. Flickr photo by the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste)

I’m just going to come right out and say it: the President is a socialist.

While some of us may wish to avoid talking about it, facts are facts.  The President’s policy positions, his background, and most of all his own affirmative statements prove beyond a doubt that the land which once fought so hard for liberty is now being governed by a socialist.  Sacré bleu! Continue reading

Why I Am Not Writing about the Potential Government Shutdown

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Photo by Wikipedia user Martin Falbisoner

The political news in Washington this week has been all about the possibility of a federal government shutdown next week, provided that Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution needed to fund government operations.  Normally, such a major news story might prompt me to analyze the situation here, but I have decided not to, and the reason is simple: I’m not bothered.

In the United States, the usual phrase for such an emotion would be, “I don’t care,” or less artfully, “I don’t give a crap”, or a similar phrase that adds in words I typically don’t use in my writing. (I am trying to keep Church & State at least somewhat family friendly.) Yet, none of these American phrases has quite the same meaning as, “I’m not bothered.” Continue reading

A Woman on the Move

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Federal Reserve Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen speaks at an International Monetary Fund event. IMF photo via Flickr

Janet Yellen is about to become the most powerful female in U.S. political history, and most Americans have never heard of her.

Granted, we’ve had women in positions of political power before this point.  There have been three female secretaries of state – Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton – each of whom was fourth in the line of presidential succession.  Our two female vice presidential nominees, Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, ended up losing.  One woman, also Hillary Clinton, came very close to gaining the presidential nomination of a major political party.

Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan have all been members of the Supreme Court.  You could also make the case that some First Ladies, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton (again), held enormous power through their influence over the president.  Nancy Pelosi has served as Speaker of the House of Representatives, placing her second in the line of presidential succession, arguably the highest ranking achieved by a woman in America’s political system. Continue reading

Ice Ice Baby

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Arctic sea ice is shown in this NOAA image.

Exactly how much ice is there in the Arctic Ocean?

This may seem to be a fairly straightforward question, but it is amazing how complicated something can become once the media and politicians get involved.  Take, for example, the recent announcement by the National Snow and Ice Data Center that the amount of sea ice in the Arctic (that’s the one at the North Pole) was 30% greater in August 2013 than it was in August 2012.

Normally, this would be considered a rather mundane fact, kind of like statistics on the amount of annual rainfall in Reno, NV. (No offense, Reno!) It may be interesting for some meteorologists – whose sole purpose in life is to tell us whether or not it is going to rain and to look good on T.V. – but not for the general populace. (No offense, meteorologists!) Continue reading

Angela Merkel: Mädchen in Flammen

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Photo by Wikipedia user Aleph

Germany’s Chancellor looks set for another victory in this month’s parliamentary elections.  What, if anything, can we learn from her success?

On September 22, Germans will head to the polls to choose who will represent them in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.  At the center of attention will be Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor (similar to a prime minister).  As head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the largest party in the Bundestag, Merkel has served as Bundeskanzlerin since 2005, and she is widely expected to remain in that position after the election.

Merkel’s time at the top of German politics has come at a critical period for Europe.  The financial meltdown of 2008 and ongoing Eurozone crisis have placed her at the pinnacle of global power, the head of the most dynamic economy in the European Union.  Although the country’s economic growth did slip into negative territory in 2009 – the result of an international slowdown – it has since rebounded and is looking much better than France, Spain, or Italy. Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to War

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Official UK government photo of the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street

Today, President Obama announced that he will seek authorization from Congress for a military strike in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, an act apparently committed by the Assad regime.  “This attack is an assault on human dignity.  It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” Obama said in his speech.  “In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.”

The President stressed that the scope of these strikes would be limited.  “This would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.  But I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.” Continue reading

What Do NSA Violations Tell Us About The Nature of Government?

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A part of the NSA’s interior that it apparently doesn’t mind you seeing.

The Washington Post has been filled with revelations recently about an internal audit at the NSA which revealed thousands of violations of its privacy rules.  The linked article says the May 2012 report “counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications”.  Post author Barton Gellman added that, “Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure.”

The newspaper also draws attention to an October 2011 ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which found that the NSA was using illegal methods to track and store internet communications of U.S. citizens and legal residents.  Only one page is made available for public viewing, with the author’s name redacted by the Post.  A Freedom of Information Act request for more details of the case is currently pending. Continue reading